Friday, December 24, 2021

Reflections for Lessons and Carols - Dec 2021

 Reflection for Lessons and Carols 2021

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Reflection for Genesis – Creation and Covenant

Our first gift: Creation: beginnings. These stories from Genesis remind us that all were created by our Creator and given bountiful gifts in a beautiful garden we call Earth.  God gives us the task of stewardship over this creation – these gifts. Remember that you are a child of our Creator and have been given so much. 

Another of our gifts is the covenant with the Holy One.  Covenants mean relationships, and relationships means sharing. Covenants, especially with God, help us to understand our purpose; that we are meant to be here in this place and in this time. 

God is there all the time. That covenant remains even when we fail.  So when you are looking for answers or solace, find God ready to help.  As well, part of our covenant means to be there for others around us – to share. So what do you do with your gifts?  How do you share your gifts? 

Reflection for Micah and Psalm 103 - God of Peace and Justice.

Peace, justice, compassion and forgiveness - gifts from God.  Yet for us,  in order to understand peace and justice, we must practice compassion and forgiveness. When we do, we might grow to be what we are meant to be. Thus, when we ask God to forgive our debts let us also be willing to forgive our debtors. Else we are weighed down by our broken misery and angers. 

From a broken world searching for meaning, God’s mission for us is not one of wealth and power but peace and loving kindness for all people: friends, neighbor, or foe. Why because God loves us so much. Beloved, we are God’s children and the gifts of compassion, forgiveness, peace and justice are ready for you. When you practice compassion and forgiveness, you will find peace and justice flourish around you.  When you realize this, yes, you receive wisdom, another gift of God.

Reflection for Luke 2: 1-7 - Birth

Birth is beautiful and messy. Even when adopting, the first day, the first moment, We come into being. This is full of excitement and realization. 

Whether an animal or human being, there is a parent and youth; there is a family with many possibilities and worries. This is a beginning for some, and for some, this is renewal. God gives a chance for newness in birth. For we were created in darkness, and through Christ, we are born into new life with so much possibility. 

Yet we begin something new together, (and we cannot go back to the past.)  Each moment is a chance for rebirth as we consider where we are, where we have been and where we go from here.  That is anxious, scary, breathtaking, and it is exhilarating joyfulness.  How can we renew and embrace the joy of birth – the gift of life!?

Reflection for Luke 2:8-16 and Matthew 2:1-11 - Shepherds and Foreigners.

Beloved, Fear not for good news is with you! Angels appear to the shepherds (those who tend flocks) and are given a sign that they follow – in order to witness -To witness Christ born into our world.

Foreigners come to the land with hopeful hearts following the Christmas star to witness. Like my own foreign exchange student, they teach us about our land and gifts we have when we first welcome. So observe all the beauty around us and most importantly, welcome with God’s love in your hearts.

Shepherds and foreigners were drawn together because our Shepherd, Jesus, was born this day to teach us and to lead us. They are gifts to remind us that our witness begins with welcome.

Reflection for Romans 8:35-39 – Promises Fulfilled with Divine Love.

Our lessons today remind us that God has given us so many gifts, especially this child. God brings us together with these gifts, with divine love, and asks us to share with those around us. Because a truly cherished gift is not one we hoard but one that we share with others and because God shares with us first.

St Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from that divine love. Why because we grow together when we welcome and let God work with us. That love is our bond. Of all of the gifts, we can trust God, and we can trust in these gifts unlike many other gifts we may get in our lives.  

Still, we are want to trust God only when our bank accounts are doing ok, people are healthy, or there is calm in the air.  Yet, when bills are difficult, pandemics are ugly, when you feel your back is up against the wall (trying to figure things out), take heart that nothing can separate us from the love and promises from God.  

We may fail because we are imperfect, but God and Jesus do not fail us.  This is the true gift of Christmas. Covenant bonded with love.

We can look into the future with hope because God gives a place to start, again and again. So what do we do with these gifts? Along with the gifts we observe here tonight, we have been given, we have the tasks of stewardship, sharing and welcoming.

We are formed in darkness to meet the new day. We might worry because we may fail, but we live in this moment and there is a light. Be born into new life with Christ this night.

Good Morning is coming with good news of angels. Find the courage to serve – to share.

That is the Christmas promise: that hope is real and God is here. Forgive, let go, let love and renew in this season  - as we share in the light of Christ.

Thanks Be to God

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Joy of Love - Luke 1

 Joy of Love

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Luke 1: 39-55, Micah 5

Opening Prayer.

I grew up praying the Hail Mary and the Holy Rosary.  Today’s lesson is the basis for those prayers. I admit that these are great meditation prayers, and we know that prayer and meditation are ways we can talk to God, to find some peace.  

Yet when I think of Mary and reading this text these days, my perspective has changed.  This is not just few good words but based upon something much more.

Two women, one past the age to conceive and the other is young and inexperienced.  Mary, the daughter of Joachim and Anna, goes to Elizabeth and Zechariah, both people of religious traditions and relative to Mary. She goes there to stay for a few months.  We have to wonder a little bit why.

Mary is in a precarious position (as most unwed mothers are).

She is disadvantaged, does not have answers, and faces public scrutiny for being pregnant and unmarried. I imagine her to be somewhat frightened and looking for reassurances. Where can she go and who can she trust?

So, she goes to Elizabeth. Does the young girl have to explain why to Elizabeth or even ask for acceptance?  

Now, we all know this feeling of being in a dark place without answers searching for reasons wondering what is true, what I should believe, or what I should do next. Yet like people do in Stephen ministry, Elizabeth does a marvelous thing (before St Stephen was even known). She welcomes, listens and walks along with Mary. She takes Mary in.

I imagine Mary questioning and unsure, but looking.  And then, when Mary sees her older cousin, she sees a woman full of life and with so much joy for her own pregnancy, her own blessing from God, is it then in that Mary would find relief and utter joy that she begins to sing praises?

To go from anxious and precarious to hope and joy! This is Mary’s Isaiah moment - “out of the darkness they saw the light”.

This song comes from deep within her, and she sings for both of them. This young, inexperienced woman sings about God’s blessings in her life, her cousins’ and of God’s vision for the whole world.  

Maybe she gets carried away, and maybe, the song becomes her. 

She is transformed from a lowly person to God’s servant. She is blessed with God’s spirit and God’s gifts. She is transformed.

The thing about this beautiful song is that it is not just for her, Elizabeth and Zechariah.  

She sings for every son and daughter who thinks that God has somehow forgotten or thinks God put calamity in our lives. She sings for those who think that God has forgotten that promise and to remind us God is there, to love forever, to give space for joy, to give life.  This song is for you and I.

To work the pun, Advent is a time pregnant with hope, wonder, and yes anxiousness and questions.  This song reminds us that we are not alone even when it feels like the world has turned away. There is someone that we can lean into to find hope, find peace, find joy and find love. 

Mary finds strength and reassurance in the joy expressed by Elizabeth and that grows between them.  We now what it is like to see people having “joy”, we want to join the fun.  She has to sing because she has found joy in love.  She has to sing because she sees and she is reminded that she is not alone and that God is with her, with her cousin another is hope in the world - through the Spirit. 

She is not royalty or prophet but prophecy is what she does. The gifts of God are not just for the rich and powerful, but for all of us.

I imagine her to be woman who is suddenly moved; has to belt out this wonderful number because the moment grips her and lift her.  She feels that wonderful sense and aura of hopeful anticipation instead of dread and worry.  She feels gitty and alive in the relief from her cousin and God.  

Thus, what the holy spirit bestows upon her is more than just passing idea, but hope for the whole world.  Elizabeth gets it. Mary gets it.  Even though she has so much against her and she can foresee the challenges ahead of her child, she sees hope and that fills her with joy and love.

Think about that for a moment.  Why do we sing Christmas carols and Advent hymns of hope and great anticipation?

Because you see, Jesus grows up with this woman as mother. 

One has to think she imparts some of her hope, her joy and her love into the child who we know as Jesus - the power of a great parent - great teacher. That starts with welcome.

Despite a society that scorns, a government that threatens, despite people going hungry and fear of military aggressions, or despite serious poverty, Mary senses the love of God with her and in her. Mary has joy in her heart. She has love for her child, a gift from God - for Elizabeth’s child, also a gift from God.  She realizes the gifts they have been given.

What does that mean for us??

Mary knows life isn’t going to be easy and the road ahead is paved with serious challenge. Yet, Mary realizes and sees a future with hope and love. Despite great odds, Mary raises Jesus as a child of hope, a child of love and peace.  Mary raises the child in the Spirit of God because God is there.   

That is why we give praise in our Christmas carols.  That is why we pray.  We could look back longingly at Christmases past hoping for more security, less troubles, but that is the wrong direction beloved.  We have grace now and in the days ahead of us. 

So when you are standing at the window of hope in a world full of suffering, maybe the path is not despair in winter but beautiful winter. Even on the longest night, there is a light.  Feel God inside you working with you. And then you too might just need to belt a great praise. Because young or old, we have so much here.

In a world that is longing for gentle peace and generous sharing of gifts, we can stand at that window with Mary waiting with great anticipation and hope and then let yourself be filled to the brim with the joy of God’s love.

Look who is with you and be transformed with that love around you and inside you.

Thanks Be to God

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Village Montage 2021

Hello all,

This year I figured a way to keep kitty-zilla out of the village space and set up the Christmas, Fall and Halloween village as a unit with the train running through all of them. 

Some of you know that I have been doing this for years. I was sad when we moved into our house and started setting up the village only to have pet invaders knocking things around. To keep them out of village would have been expensive and likely unnecessary.  

As it were, the pandemic taught me something about our house and places we use or dont use.  I moved it to a different area where I could keep the animals out via a toddler door. 

So now I have a train and possible perpetual village scene in the downstairs. 

I decided to do this because 

1. There is a lot of time to put up and tear down each year. 

2. I have always wanted to do model railroading. 

3. I have been able to do better work with ascetics because I dont think I will need to tear it down anytime soon. 

4. I have built this village up for years and the tear up and tear down would break things.  I hated retiring pieces that I enjoyed and dont really desire to get more at this point (think I have enough as it is). 

So I hope you enjoy the work "so far" as I am sure I will be tweaking and changing this over time. Majority of the pieces are collected from Lemax and the train is HO scale. 

A video is on YouTube: 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Peace - Luke 3


Tony E Dillon-Hansen

Sermon based upon Luke 3: 1-6

Opening prayer.

Our scripture opens today with a tongue-twisting list: an emperor, a governor, Roman tetrarchs and a couple high priests; these are the human governance around John. Together they hold all religious, political and economic authority and command of the known world.

Yet the Word of God is not to come to them, but instead to a fellow in the wilderness, John the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, both of priestly ancestry as well. Elizabeth lineage goes back to Aaron and Zechariah’s duties include service in the Jerusalem Temple. Thus, John is a prophet that seems to be following the family business.  

Yet instead of serving near the Temple, John is out in the wilderness becoming strong in the Spirit. That is far from the centers of worldly power and going out to give knowledge of salvation to the people by forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77).

Why is John in the wilderness?  That is where (and how) people go to learn about God.  

Think about it, the times we have excitement and bliss, we feel God, but it is in those moments of time where we are tested, when we have to find direction, when we have a struggle (whether mental, physical or otherwise), that is when we ought to remember that we are not alone.  When we feel tested, we ought to remember that God is there for us. The things is when you look back on occasions when you were in the midst of struggles, I bet you can find that God was there, even when you did not recognize that.

In the early 2000s, I worked at the Univeristy of Iowa doing tech support until the legislature sent the University a smaller budget.  My job was on the chopping block, and I was not sure what to do next. I looked around and figured this would be a good time to go back and finish my bachelor degree. So I spent the next year doing just that.  I finished my degree, raised my GPA, and ran a non-profit at the same time. Maybe, God was helping me all along.

Even today when we are surrounded by a pandemic unleashing new variants or just getting through another test at school, new tasks at the office, getting ready for a wrestling tournament, a long day of harvest, or loss of a loved one, we might look for God because God is there the whole time. Especially in those moments, God is ready to help calm your struggle, calm the waters and bring you some peace.

That is really the key.  When life looks uncertain, difficult, wavering or hostile even, we would do well to remember that God is right there waiting for us to call, to pray.  In these moments, we can lean into our faith and trust that God will give us peace.

John isn’t just a strange guy in the wilderness reciting Bible verses. John calls out the words of Isaiah to help us repent (that is return) to God through this wonderful thing called forgiveness.  Because we all know that myself is the biggest critic of myself, and I have to remember to forgive others around me, but even moreso, I must remember to also forgive myself. For when the job goes away (whether you could do anything about it or not), it is not the end of the world but maybe a chance to do something different - something I should have done anyway even.

For when we struggle we hold onto it and push away things that we might need or could use, including our God. People will hold onto these feelings of remorse, shame and guilt in very unhealthy ways. Thus to forgive oneself, is to allow ourselves to settle into God’s peace and let God calm our feelings.  Repent is not just a frightful word, but a return - a return to God. Thus, returning to God is more than just praying, but returning to that peace that we have forgotten or ignored.

Thus, the voice cries out from the wilderness in our lives - looking, wondering and praying - praying for our salvation, forgiveness and return to God. John is quoting Isaiah that references the return from Exile in Babylon which implies a journey and every journey begins with what - single step and then another. 

That road, that journey isn’t always paved with assurances and easy times, but with each step, each valley can be filled, each mountain can be made low when we put our trust in God. That is a challenge for us.  We will read more about John’s ideas when you read further into Luke 3 (which is the core of next week’s Gospel reading.)

See this strong contrast from the folks listed in the beginning of this text.  They cannot possibly do what God can, that which God promises for us.  This is the world God promises for us.

This is the power of God poured out for us - why? Even in a world that is tired, broken and dealing with years-long plagues, people looking for hope, looking on this long road for something: For you beloved, God pours this out for you and for me so that “all flesh will see” and have peace.

Thanks Be to God.